Over the last few years, we’ve been big fans of the Backbone One controller and the Razer Kishi V2 for playing on iPhone. Backbone recently updated its USB-C BackBone One controller to add iPhone 15 series support, and also released a new updated universal USB-C controller. We then had a Backbone One Carrying Case release. Following the launch of the updated controller and carrying case, I had a chance to talk to Backbone’s CEO & founder Maneet Khaira about the company, the new controller, customer feedback, subscriptions, and more.
TouchArcade (TA): Tell us a little bit about yourself and Backbone.
Maneet Khaira (MK): I am the CEO and founder of Backbone. I founded the company in 2018 during my senior year at Columbia University while working at Google. Seeing a gap in the market, I wanted to develop a more cohesive way for people to play games on their mobile devices, which led us to our core product, an attachable gaming controller for phones. We officially launched Backbone at the end of 2020 and were thrilled to announce our $40 million Series A funding round led by Index Ventures in 2022. Some of our other investors include Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures and gaming creators Nadeshot, MrBeast, and Preston.
TA: How has the response been to the new carrying case?
MK: We’ve been thrilled about the demand for the new accessories products. The team really obsessed over all the little details and it really shows in the final product.
TA: Has there been any additional work done in the new updated USB-C controller to accommodate people using their iPhone 15 with a case?
MK: Over the past year and a half, we have spent considerable time delving into customer feedback on Backbone One. One area of opportunity was helping users play with their phone cases. Over the last year, we have developed this magnetic adapter system that allows users to play their games on Backbone with compatible cases. Every updated device comes with two sets of adapters—large and small. The device comes pre-installed with the large adapters for case-free play, but users can quickly swap out the large adapters for the small adapters and enable play with a large variety of compatible cases.
TA: One of my favorite things barring the comfy grip is the face buttons on the Backbone One. What were your goals with the face buttons and analog sticks on the controller compared to the competition?
MK: I’m really glad to hear you like it. Designing game controllers can be incredibly hard. Gamers are perhaps more perceptive than any other consumer–they really care about every aspect of gameplay, and they can immediately pick up on even the most nuanced of ergonomic details. It sounds absurd to say, but if there’s one overarching thing that 4+ years of extensive human factors and ergonomics research have taught, it’s that even a difference at the level of a hundred microns on a given surface can radically change the overall gameplay experience in a player’s hands. The current generation of devices is informed by years of human factors and anthropometric research that help ensure that they’re comfortable for a litany of hand sizes and postures. There are some awesome articles online chronicling the development of the Steam Deck and Stadia controller to name a few that provide a glimpse into the complex and iterative development process for products like these.
In our case, designing devices is perhaps even more challenging because they are bound by additional constraints: not only do they have to be comfortable to play on but they must also maintain an incredibly small and lightweight form factor. 4+ years of extensive research have brought us to the current form factor, which we believe is the most optimal balance among these constraints for long-term gameplay. The combination of opposing constraints means that every aspect of our device designs undergoes careful deliberation and rigorous play testing from our internal human factors and UX research team. Ultimately, the objective with all of our input devices is to make them feel invisible–we want to render the connection between your mind and the game seamless. I’m constantly blown away by the team’s amazing attention to detail in developing our products–many of them have previously shipped awesome consumer products like the iPhone, Google Home, and Meta Quest as well as amazing software like Twitch, Pokemon Go, and the Google Play store. Their continuous R&D efforts have yielded an extensive patent portfolio across devices, software, and services.
TA: Back to the Backbone App (Free), it is an amazing experience, but there’s been quite a bit of discussion around the subscription that locks some features that people would expect, behind a paywall. How do you decide what to offer free and what to have behind the premium subscription?
MK: Last holiday season, the Backbone app, which is free for all Backbone users, was one of the top 25 apps overall on the App Store. It’s typically one of the top apps in the social category as well. Over the past few months, we’ve refreshed the look and feel of the app for a rich and interactive experience when discovering games across all kinds of gaming: remote play, cloud gaming, and app store. We’re excited to see what happens this holiday season as more users come onto the platform.
The Backbone+ service also offers a combination of 20+ additional premium app features, up to 50% off on Backbone products, as well as in-game rewards and perks–all at an accessible price of less than four bucks a month. Our product teams are constantly investing heavily in developing new features and capabilities to enrich the overall experience.
I’d like to thank Maneet Khaira and Sarah Schwab for their time here.